STOCK Dubai Skyline
Dubai Sports Council has estimated about a million World Cup fans could arrive in the city. Qatar is expecting a similar number. Image Credit: WAM

The UAE stands to be a winner at the Qatar World Cup if an overspill of fans floods its hotels, restaurants and planes.

With little investment the UAE, and in particular Dubai, stands to gain if, as expected, supporters opt to stay in the tourism hotspot instead of tiny Gulf neighbour Qatar during the November-December tournament.

High accommodation prices in the Qatari capital Doha could entice fans, experts say.

Budget airline flydubai will run at least 30 return flights a day to Doha, just an hour away, part of a daily airlift of 160 shuttle services from cities in the resource-rich Gulf.

Dubai Sports Council has estimated about a million World Cup fans could arrive in the city. Qatar is expecting a similar number.

For the rush, Dubai is gearing up with fan zones announced at parks, beaches and in the financial centre, while hotels are offering special packages.

Such deals include shuttle flights and transport to the airport and fan zones.

The UAE is also offering multiple-entry visas at the nominal fee to people with tickets for World Cup matches.

World Cup commuters

Visiting fans won’t be Dubai’s only World Cup commuters. Firas Yassin, a French-Lebanese Dubai resident, booked a day-trip to see France’s opening game after being “shocked” by the price of Doha hotel rooms.

Yassin will fly in with his wife five hours before the clash with Denmark on November 26, and leave a few hours after the final whistle having realised a life-long dream to see “Les Bleus” play live.

“I’m going to visit the city, watch the match and then go back to my place in Dubai,” the 34-year-old told AFP.

Expat Sport, which is licenced by FIFA to sell match hospitality packages for the games in Doha, noted that “convenience” was a key factor in people choosing to stay in Dubai.

It cited “the regular shuttle flights operating between the two cities and it only being an hour flight”.

One Dubai hotel, on the man-made, frond-shaped Palm island, will be given over entirely to football fans.

“We have had a surge of bookings from Mexico, UK, Europe and India,” Expat Sport said. “Room nights are going fast and we expect to be fully booked at this rate.”

Soaring tourist numbers

More than a million tourists visited Dubai in July, data showed, as the emirate remained on track to overtake pre-pandemic tourism levels.

Dubai received 8.1 million tourists in the first seven months of 2022, a 184 per cent jump compared to the same period a year ago. The emirate had welcomed 7.12 million international overnight visitors in the first six months of 2022.

Tourist numbers during January-July 2021 stood at 2.85 million, and at 9.58 million in the first seven months of 2019.

Hotel occupancy during the seven-month period stood at 72 per cent of 141,000 rooms available, data showed, closely on the heels of 74 per cent in 2019, even as the emirate witnessed a 19 per cent jump in the number of available rooms in 2022 year-to-date compared to 2019 levels.

Shuttle flights will also run from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman to relieve pressure on accommodation in Doha, a city of 2.4 million.

But “relative to other Gulf states, Dubai does hold an advantage with its standing as a major tourist destination already”, Swanston said.

With inputs from AFP